Fruit of the Fallen

Winter Unleashed

A Song of Ice

Part 32 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Yesterday, Marwyn
Marwyn had heard Lesani’s shouted warning, but before he could try and jump off the temple’s platform, it had already fired. He all but lost consciousness as his physical form was tossed between the planes like a leaf in the gale. When it all ended, he could only see one thing before his mind was completely overwhelmed. A floating, blue cloak.

Later
The bard awoke in sheer panic, gasping for air. After calming down enough to take in his surroundings, he finds himself somewhat back in the prison cell the Fairhaven guard had taken him to back when they thought him a traitor. Panic resumed as he searched for and failed to find any of his gear. Had it all been a dream? Was he still in this prison, had his escape never happened?
He jumps back as a familiar face melts out of the wall. Daigre, the stone-walking dwarf. “On sec’nd thought, think’ll just leave ya’. Not w’rth tha’ trouble.”
“Wait, wait no! Wait!” Marwyn screams after him. This wasn’t what happened, he was supposed to escape with that dwarf. “Come back!”
“Eh, keep it down, or I’ll keep you down,” a guard yells at him, “Frickin’ lunatics.”
“Let me out! I’m with the Royal Eyes!”
“The what?” the guard responds ignorantly, “Look, not gunna tell you again.”
“Let me out!” Marwyn screams desperately. The guard merely sighs, and cracks him on the head with a baton.

When the bard wakes up, head ringing, he immediately feels the binds around his wrists and ankles. The ropes were taught, so much so that we was being suspended over the table below him. It hurt, but nowhere near as much as it could. Marwyn knew what he was on, he’d been fearing it ever since he’d woken up back in the prison cell. The rack.
“Finally awake? Good,” a voice calls out to him, but Marwyn can’t stretch his head up enough to see the speaker, “I worried that guard may have rendered you brain dead. Not that that would take much effort.”
“Mmmm mph!” Marwyn tries to speak, but he had been gagged as well.
“Sorry, couldn’t quite catch that,” the interrogator says whimsically, “Now let’s see here, agenda, agenda,” and the sound of ruffling paper was heard. The interrogator steps into Marwyn’s field of vision, and to the bard, it appeared to be the same one that had taunted him last time. “Oh yes, Cyrian rebels and all that. Boring!”

The interrogator tosses the parchment he had in his hands to the side, and to Marwyn’s surprise they burst into flames, “I’d rather just skip to the torture. Because you’ve had it a long time coming, bard. A long, time,” the voice menaces. The interrogator pulls out a knife, leans over Marwyn and… cuts one of his hands free? “You can handle it from there,” he says simply, walking away.
Marwyn rips the gag out of his mouth with his free hand and says, “But… what?”
“Of course you’d be stupid enough not to understand what’s going on. I mean, did you actually think you went back in time? Maybe… maybe this will clear things up,” and with those words, the interrogator begins to change. Had he thought to free his other limbs Marwyn would have run, but all he could do was cower as the interrogator’s form ripples and changed. Changed into the terrible shape of Blue Cloak’s true form, the mist wight.

“Thought you were rid of me?” it screams at him, in a screeching voice, “I have suffered so long in this hell, but now…”
“This is impossible! How…” Marwyn blusters, while finally trying to loose his other hand.
“You never removed your mark, you complete, utter, stupid fool! I have no idea how you of all people managed to plane shift, but did you really think you couldn’t be intercepted? My master has powers not even the rest of the gods know of! And despite my failure… he has given me the chance to punish the one responsible. Your agony will be the my last real succor ‘fore eternal damnation, and I will make it last.”
“What… what are you going to do?” Marwyn asks, words barely forming midst his terror.
“What am I going to do? To repay all that you have done?” it asks rhetorically, “I’m letting you go of course.” The figure then turns, and exits the room.

Incredulous, Marwyn redoubles his efforts to free himself before it comes back. He fails, however, as just before the door closes, the hand of the beast stops it. “Oh, by the way, the entirety of this world is a nightmare realm designed solely to inflict you physical and mental trauma. Most was supplied by your own subconscious, though I admit I took some creative liberties with your father. After all, what’s the real difference between a tanner and a butcher? Oh, he’s just thrilled to meet you. So if you just want to starve here that’s fine, I’m sure I’ll think of something to flush you out. It’s the show of your life, bard. You don’t want to leave your audience waiting. Heh heh heh,” the mist laughs as it leaves, the echoing chuckles eventually fading.

Marwyn eventually frees himself, though he wasn’t entirely sure he should. His mind was all over the place, reeling. Was it a bluff, the moment he stepped out he’d get a sword to the neck? Or even worse, was it all true… And what happened to everyone else?
All of his stuff was gone. Just a cloth sack and some rope he could salvage from the rack. One of the boards looked loose, and now he also had weapon. A terrible weapon that wouldn’t as much parry a spoon, but a weapon.
He nervously peeks through the door, not sure what he’d find. It was a hallway reminiscent of the Fairhaven underground, complete with even a guard. The resemblances stopped there however, for the creature before him was obviously a zombie.
“I started off easy, I admit,” Blue Cloak taunts him, his voice seeming to come from nowhere, “Oh, yeah, I can see you wherever you are. And talk to you, so you’ll always have this cheery voice in your head while, you know, your spleen is being eaten or something. Good job getting that stick, I’m sure it’ll help you… ok, I can’t. What are you going to… I’ll just find out. Hey you!” the voice shouts to the zombie, “Dinner time. Let’s go, I want to see some biting. Chop chop.”

The zombie slowly lurches to attention, catching sight of Marwyn. The bard screams as it charges him, and he barely manages to get the door closed. “Oh good, you prolonged your survival by about 2 minutes.”
“Just shut up!” Marwyn yells into the air, trying to hold the door shut.
“Oh, alright, since you’re in charge of this pocket dimension hellhole… oh wait, that would be me,” Blue Cloak says ironically, “So instead, I think I’ll weaken the hinges on that door.”
Marwyn screams again as the wooden door swings inward, the hinges practically falling off. He hurriedly backs away, almost falling backwards onto the rack. With horror, he watches as the zombie shambles towards him. Now that he had an unwanted better look, he realized it was the guard from earlier. The skin was halfway decayed, but it was him.
Fortunately it only tried to claw at him, instead of using the perfectly good sword at its hip. The bard was barely able to keep it off him, and it was also a minute of desperate struggle before Marwyn managed to grasp the hilt of the sabre. From there, it was a stab, and, when he figures out that doesn’t work too well against zombies, a few slashes to end the being.

“Good job,” the voice says mockingly, “You really, really did it. Honestly would’ve been disappointed if that ended you.”
“What’s the point?” Marwyn challenges, “If you can just change anything here, why should I even try?”
“A fair point,” it replies, “I suppose this is the part where I give you some kind of arcane, specific rule which, if you follow, will let you out. Though I suppose the little brain you do have will probably see through it. So yeah, you’re going to die here. It’s just a matter of how, and wouldn’t you like to go out fighting something a little more than a simple undead?”

Marwyn really didn’t know how to respond to that. He didn’t want to die, certainly. He definitely couldn’t just… No, he had to keep moving. There must be a way out, the voice certainly wouldn’t tell him if there was. Maybe this was all a bluff to get him to stop from even looking.

He was halfway down the corridor, resolved to fight whatever was around the next corridor, when the voice chimed in again. “Ok, if you want to get out, just collect the four shards of the master key and unlock the giant lock in the… oh, why do I even try?” it sighs, when Marwyn ignores the voice and keeps walking. “It’s rude to ignore someone you know!”

Suddenly, the floor was littered with broken glass, and the bard grunted in pain when he unknowing stepped on it with his bare feet. “Ah, that’s more like it! Now the fun begins. I think I’ll just sit back a little and enjoy. Have… fun…” the voice slowly drifts away.
The bard tries his hardest not to move, lest he get more glass in his feet. He tries for a moment to heal his wounds, then depressingly remembers he didn’t have anything to channel his powers through. Without a lute, wand, or bow, he was basically magicless. It takes him a few minutes, but he eventually figures out pushing aside the glass with the board he had pried free earlier. It took a while, but he reached the end of the corridor, which was fortunately glass free. There, he took the time to dig out the larger shards so that he could actually walk again. It still hurt, but not by much.

The bard was still freaking out, of course. But rather than cow him, the dangers thus far had emboldened him. It flamed a rage he didn’t know he had in him. Blue Cloak had already tried to ruin his life once. He sure as hell wasn’t tolerating a second time.
The next hallway ended in a stairway up, assumedly to the surface. This wasn’t how Marwyn remembered the prison, but obviously he couldn’t rely on memory. Figuring any trap would be undetectable, he breaks into a sprint and manages to reach the end without trouble. Heading up the stairway, he finds himself in the middle of Fairhaven proper. Burning.
Most of the city seemed ablaze, and everywhere were the sounds of people dying. Some of these scenes were even visible, as people were hacked, bludgeoned, or devoured by a variety of monsters. Some undead, yes, but others were of a different nature. Marwyn wasn’t sure what they were, but he knew he didn’t want to fight any of them.

His attention is immediately drawn by a familiar cry. Down the street, in a ruined shop, Vargard was fighting several goblins. Unthinkingly, Marwyn ran to his aid, and together they easily killed the few enemies. However, when the fight had ended, Vargard turns his blade towards Marwyn.
“This is your fault!” the warrior screams, blind rage in his eyes, “All of this! I should have left you in the gutter I found you in, and run you through while I was at it!”
“Var, I…” Marwyn tries at first to reason, but then comes to a realization. It wasn’t really him.

“My god, took you long enough,” the voice taunts him, as the warrior assaults Marwyn. Shit, Marwyn thinks, he can read my thoughts. “Well of course I can. I’d complain that they were annoying, but honestly there aren’t that many.”
Shut. Up! Marwyn thinks, as he tries to defend against Vargard. He wasn’t a match for him, though, and quickly acquired a deep cut across the torso. Gasping with the pain, Marwyn decides that if he stayed, he’d die. So he ran away.

Fortunately, the warrior didn’t give chase. Instead, he started desperately pleading with the bard. “Marwyn, my leg! I can’t move, you have to get me out of here! Maaarrwwyynn!” the warrior screamed, as the building collapsed on him.
“Ooh, that had to hurt. Of course, you know its fake, but it seems real doesn’t it?”
I’m. Ignoring. You.
“You can try,” the voice says teasingly, “Though I find it interesting that the first horror your mind summoned up was abandonment issues. Geez.”
Gritting his teeth, Marwyn heads for one of the buildings that wasn’t actively on fire. He needed to treat his chest wound.

Mercifully, he was unbothered as he gathered what little supplies were around him. There was just enough cloth to form a rough bandage, and an old bottle that contained some hard alcohol. Now that he wasn’t actively bleeding from the chest, he could try to make sense of the situation. The city was on fire. No one around him was probably real. He needed to find a lute, or a wand, or something before… Wait, there was something…
Immediately, for whatever reason, his train of thought lapsed.
“Hmm, what was that? That just now?” Blue Cloak asks, with what almost sounds like a touch of concern, “What are you up to?”
Marwyn was just as confused as the voice was, however, and this was immediately made clear to his eternal observer.
“Huh. I admit I was overexaggerating your incompetence before but… how in Khyber did an idiot like you best me? Oh well, have some abberants.” The bard wasn’t entirely sure what an abberant was, but he was about to find out.

Two figures suddenly burst through the door of the room he was hiding in. They were humanoid, but purplish. They also seemed to have a squid attached to their faces, so there was that too. He immediately takes off running in the opposite direction, using the only tactic that had worked so far. It was only marginally successful this time, as a bolt of lightning clipped him as he rounded a corner. As he was running, he realized what direction he was being led. Towards Fairhold, and the center of the city. He saw the keep once he had gotten on the main road, abberants still in pursuit. The graceful structure was in all but ruin, however. Gigantic holes had been ripped out of the marble, the pride of Aundair had almost been completely destroyed.
“Hmm, no, this isn’t quite working for me,” the voice croons again, “Watching you run like a frightened, bleeding rabbit is pretty entertaining, but I feel like I’d like a more hands on approach. Tell you what, make it to the throne room before the fire does, and I won’t fillet you quite yet.”
Marwyn was about to wonder what it meant by that, when all of a sudden, a giant wave of fire sprang into life at the city wall. And it started to quickly move inwards.

The bard redoubled his sprint, even though is lungs were giving out. His exertion was intensified by the upward slope when he reached the threshold of Fairhold, but he seemed to be making it barely. The fire had consumed a third of the city thus far, but he was beating it.
When he entered the castle itself, however, he realized a major problem. He had no idea where Aurala’s throne room was, even when Fairhold hadn’t been torn to bits. He wondered for a moment if the ‘throne room’ had been ripped out, and he was meant to find its rubble in the city below. Too late now though, he thinks.
It takes him a while, but eventually he finds the throne, with a wall of fire nipping on his heels. And before him, sitting in it, is none other than Blue Cloak. It’d returned to his cloaked form, probably because it thought it made it look more regal or something.
“It does,” Blue Cloak says, “And would you stop referring to me as an it? Gods, I have feelings you know. Somewhere, probably in a jar. Good job on getting here though. Should probably stop that fire before it kills you.” It snaps its bony fingers, and the fire dies out, leaving just the two of them.

Blue Cloak gets out of the throne, and lands gracefully on the broken floor, opposite of Marwyn. The bard tries to move, but finds himself suddenly incapable of doing so. “Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. Your own personal hell? No, I want your pain concentrated. But at least we learned something today. In the time since I’ve seen you you’re still an idiot, and I need to stop being so clever. Well, now that we’ve got that sorted out, I might as well just STAB YOU” It suddenly yells, moving with lightning fast speed and practically gutting Marwyn with a single stroke.
The pain was immense, but Marwyn couldn’t do anything to prevent it. Each cut was ferocious, but at the same time, measure and precise. Intended to inflict tremendous pain without immediately killing him. Eventually it stops, and lets the bard collapse.

Marwyn could barely breathe. He could barely move, let alone breathe. For all the talk of prolonged agony, Blue Cloak was doing its damndest to kill him quickly.
“Oh go on, get up, get up!” the cloaked figure yells, hoisting the bard up, “Do you even know what you did back there? The power that was almost mine which you just snapped in two? Like… like this?” it cries, as it snaps Marwyn’s right arm cleanly. But by now it was just more pain scattered across a canvas of agony. The bard tries to do something with his other arm while Blue Cloak was close, but he could barely muster the strength to make a fist.

“You want to do something? You think you can do something?” Blue Cloak screams in his face, “Come, look at this, look at this.” It drags Marwyn over to the stained glass window behind the throne, and shatters it without anything more than a snap of its fingers. “I have burned your entire world down and that was just setting the scene. I can cure those wounds in an instant, or break every bone in your body. You are mine, now, and forever! And this torment, oh, this is just the beginning. You will come to wish I was this merciful to you, and when you beg for it all to end, I will simply laugh.”
Jump. The word finally became clear. It was what had nagged him earlier, a thought he couldn’t quite pin down. But it wasn’t his, and Blue Cloak didn’t seem to notice. Jump, there it was again. Jump down, into the burning city? Jump! it said again, this time forcefully.

“Wait, what are you…” Blue Cloak begins, but he is suddenly blown away from the bard by a wave of force. Marwyn collapses, inches away from the edge. “This is impossible! You can’t have…”
Jump now! Whatever this new voice was, it seemed to have some power against his tormentor. That was all Marwyn needed to trust it, and he rolled himself off the edge. The plunge was terrifying, but not as much as what awaited him back in the throne room. Death might be a release, he thought, maybe this was just himself letting go, letting it all end. He didn’t want it to end this way, but perhaps, perhaps it was time. He found peace, inches away from the ground.

???
Marwyn awoke with a gasp, blind. For a moment, he thought himself back in the prison, that it was all starting over again. Then he notices something is trying to crush his head. After wrenching the thing from his skull and crushing it beneath his heel, Marwyn sees a… thing. It is definitely a thing, but it was too amorphous to describe otherwise. “What the hell?” he groans.
“It has no name. For it shouldn’t exist in this realm,” an odd voice tells the bard. It sounded young, definitely male, but very experienced. “Much like you shouldn’t be here.” The voice wasn’t the same as the one Blue Cloak had used, but recent events had left him on edge.
“Who are you?” Marwyn calls out. He didn’t see anything besides a faint light that filled the area, not even in the far horizon. But the voice seemed like it was close.
“A friend,” it reassures him, “That aberration was attempting to corrupt you, using both your fears and perceived agony to destabilize you and induce madness. I am not entirely sure what its intentions were after that, though I assume only more unpleasantness would follow. But I assure you, you have now returned to reality.”
“Who… who are you?” Marwyn repeats uneasily, trying to stand and failing, “Where am I?”
“The Sea of Siberys,” it answers.
“Ok, but who are you?” Marwyn asks again.
“The Sea of Siberys,” it replies again, and the bard feels his jaw go wide when he realizes it was serious.

“You, you can’t be,” Marwyn says, once he had regained his voice, “That’s insane!”
“At first it may appear so. In truth I call myself the Sea of Siberys in the same way you may call yourself Aundair,” the voice tries to explain.
“What?” Marwyn simply asks, not understanding.
There was a small sigh, and then the voice continues, “It is understandable if your trials have left you weary. There is a place nearby where you may rest, with one who can explain more aptly. I believe you have already met.”
“Wait,” Marwyn says, getting his thoughts together, “If I’m really in the Sea, how come I’m not freezing to death or something? How am I standing?”
“Some of the Sea is not dangerous for mortal inhabitants, though I admit if it were not for me you would be,” the voice says, “As for the second matter, you are standing because you think you should be standing. Gravity here is somewhat subjective, I would try not to think on it.”
“O…ok,” Marwyn replies, still not entirely understanding, but now sure that he wasn’t in immediate danger. It could still be a trick on Blue Cloak’s part, if that wasn’t just a nightmare, but he was being optimistic today. “Where should I go?”
“Withdraw your bow,” he says, somewhat relieved that the bard was starting to comprehend him. Marwyn does so, and gapes when he sees his dragonshard glowing fiercely with power. A power he had seen before.
“That, that was you!” Marwyn exclaims, remembering the time the stone had lent terrible power to one of his shots before quickly fading again.
“Yes. Navigate in the direction it glows brightest. I would give better instructions but you really wouldn’t understand them.”
“Alright,” Marwyn nods, ready to move forward. He moves the stone around him, trying to find a heading. Confusion fills him when this direction turns out to be straight downwards.
“Will yourself that way, and that way you will go,” the voice instructs, seeing his confusion. With his concentration now on the dragonshard, Marwyn makes a surpise discovery. He finds that the voice seemed to be originated from the dragonshard. He couldn’t locate the source of the voice earlier, but now that it was literally staring him in the face, it was obvious. For a moment, the bard though to ask exactly why and how this being was inhabiting his dragonshard, but figured all he’d get was an exasperated sigh when the first explanation was too arcane to understand.
Instead, he just decided to get a move on and worry later. It took a few tries, but Marwyn was soon flying through the empty air, holding out the stone in front of him as a guide.

It took what seemed like an hour, but Marwyn eventually got the hang of navigation in what was apparently the Sea of Siberys. What he had experienced prior to this could technically be counted as sleep, and he simply withdrew some rations whenever hunger hit him. The bard was slightly concerned with his supplies, but figured if his guide was willing to save him from some kind of nightmare demon, it would have thought of getting him food at some point in the future as well. His baser needs having been satisfied, all there was to do was continue through the dimly lit eternity of nothing.
With the only input now required being slight course corrections when the dragonshard’s light dimmed, Marwyn’s mind began to wander. The travel felt similar to what flying must be like, and eventually he was able to just enjoy the sensation. And then he realized something he should have immediately.

“Gods!” he shouts, “What about my friends. They should have been with me!”
“I do not know where they are,” the voice answers troublingly. Marwyn was glad to know it was still following him, but the answer was less than comforting.
“I have to go back! They might need my help or…”
“I do, however, know where they will be,” the voice assures him, “And that your present course is the shortest path to them. My compliments on adjusting to movement here, by the way.”
“You know the future?” Marwyn asks skeptically.
“Yes. And no. And in between,” his guide answers unhelpfully, “It is complicated expressing the exact nature of my knowledge in this tongue. To the extent at which you need to be concerned, your friends are still that way,” it finishes, briefly causing the dragonshard to glow more intensely for emphasis.
“But how did we get separated?”
“You look far too sane to have been studying the intricacies of interplanar travel for long enough to understand. I’ll simply say that something on your being caused you to be ‘pulled’ away during transit. Fortunately it wasn’t strong enough to ‘pull’ you all the way, but enough that I could not find you until you were already under assault.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Marwyn replies, “It was probably my Mark. I’d been cursed before after an encounter with something but I think it’s all sorted out now.”
After waiting for the bard to finish, the guide replies, “Yes, I have been watching you for some time. Apparently the master of the mark attempted to use it to throw you into Xoriat. Again, speaking loosely.”
“Xoriat?”
“Best you not concern yourself with that place. Yet. Now, the upcoming section is rather tricky. I will need to focus to navigate the ripples in the Sea. Please save any remaining questions until we are clear.”
“Yeah, sure,” Marwyn nods, not liking the implication behind the phrase ‘ripples in the Sea’.

To Marwyn’s surprise, his surroundings began changing without any warning. What had been an endless void began to shift, growing brighter and tinged with various colors. In the far distance, almost impossibly far, seemed to be land of some sort. The bard also noticed that the stone was taking him through a path which avoided that direction.
This change was also accompanied by sudden vertigo, and Marwyn had to fight to keep down the rations he had eaten earlier. “Apologies,” the guide speaks up, “I believed my presence was enough to shield you from the majority of side effects from plane shifting. This was an error of judgment on my part.”
“We, ugh, we just plane shifted?” Marwyn asks.
“Yes. Again, the how is rather difficult to explain. We are not out of danger yet, and I will need you to stay focused. Whatever you do, do not use spells. It may draw… unwanted attention.”
“Yeah, whatever gets us through this,” Marwyn agrees.
“Oh, and if it feels like you suddenly can’t breathe, please let me know,” he adds nonchalantly.

With not much else to do, Marwyn turns his attention to the objects in the distance. Nothing was close enough to even guess at its identity, but something was better than nothing. When he was nearly blinded by a flash of light he changed his mind. The bard almost asked what exactly was in the distance, but remembered the guide’s instructions and reigned in his tongue.
The guide, however, felt no such limitations. “That was Dol Arrah reinforcements arriving. Interesting, given… Nothing you need worry about.”
“Reinforcements? Is there a war going on up here?” Marwyn figures that conversation was safe so long as the other initiated it.
“An endless war. We are far enough to avoid even the farthest scouts.”
“Over what?”
“Something that is beyond even I,” he answers, “I’m not even sure the Gods know entirely what they’re fighting over. But that it is powerful cannot be denied. Do not worry yourself, that is a war which has been waged for all of time. You would know if one side was on the brink of victory, it would be rather hard to ignore.”
“Oh,” Marwyn says. It was all getting to be a little too much to process. An immortal war fought in Siberys? How was he even supposed to deal with that? Move on, was the answer he eventually came up with. The guide had nothing further to offer, until he let out a warning.
“Another shift is coming up. Last one before our goal. I will be more careful this time, but you should brace yourself all the same.”
“Ok,” Marwyn acknowledges. Now that he was warned, he could feel the slight energy build up around him. For planar travel, it was almost miniscule, especially compared to the temple that had sent him into Siberys in the first place. The shift still hit him, but its impact was negligible. Suddenly, all around him were trees, wildlife, and the sound of rushing water. Or, more accurately, it was all below him.

Lamannia
Marwyn’s scream was cut off when he instinctively cast feather fall. Then it was a moan, as the sudden grasp of gravity had thrown off his sense of balance and induced another bout of vertigo. “Sorry,” the voice from the sound says, “Again. Even in realms where there is true gravity I travel freely. Rest assured I would have stopped you if not for your quick thinking.”
“Uhh,” Marwyn groans again, landing softly in a patch of moss. He actually was going to be sick this time, but fortunately there was a river nearby. A rabbit looked at him inquisitively, before bolting off at the slightest movement in its direction. “Where am I?”
“Lamannia, plane of the Great Forest. We are on its outskirts, and it is doubtful we will run into any sentient inhabitants. I will handle any we do come across.”
“Ok,” Marwyn says, going with it. If anything there was obviously food sources here, and water. He certainly wasn’t drinking from the nearest available source, but that was beside the point. “This place seems ok, actually.”
“It is the realm of servants of several of the Sovereign Host. Some of the land has been corrupted, though by and large it is a relatively safe harbor amidst the Sea of Siberys. Had my influence gone unchallenged, it would have been here you would have landed,” the voice from the dragonshard explains, which was now dangling from Marwyn’s bow. “Before any thoughts of hunting come to mind, I warn you. Use of your bow while I am with you is unadvisable.”
“Sure,” Marwyn obliges, not even trying to question the guide’s advice at this point, “So where am I going now?”

“A moment,” the voice says, fading towards the end. The bluish light emanating from the dragonshard also fades. For a moment, Marwyn panics, before the light returns. “The cottage is always changing positions. I don’t know why the seer is so insistent on its eccentricities. I have a heading now, either way. Start making your way across the stream, my glow will continue to guide you.”
The trip through the forest was remarkably more pleasant than the journey thus far. The presence of life around him was abundant, and the very forest was itself a marvel. True, the rampant growth caused him to sometimes need to detour or, as a last resort, cut his way through, but for the first time since he had caught sight of that damned temple back in the King’s Forest, Marwyn was regaining a sense of normalcy.
Sure, when he saw the cottage that had giant chicken legs poking out of the bottom, that was a little weird. But it wasn’t even in his top five list of disturbing or odd things he had seen today, and the forest walk had improved his mood. He carefully climbed up the stairs, thinking any sudden sounds or movement would alert the house. Finally, not entirely sure what he’d find, he knocked on the door.

The Cottage
“Ah, Winter, you’ve finally arrived. Come in, come in,” an eldery, feminine voice beckoned from inside. She sounded familiar, though Marwyn couldn’t place the voice. He certainly never met anyone who had called him…
“My name is not Winter,” his guide protested, and Marwyn sees the light fade from his dragonshard.
“Marwyn, you should come in too,” she says amiably. Marwyn opens the door to see a surprisingly well-ordered hut, considering that it was balanced atop two unstable avian legs. The walls themselves were lined with what looked like knickknacks, though to Marwyn’s eye they all contained magic to varying degrees. There was also a bed, and a desk. On the desk held what looked to be another frost dragonshard, and it had just began to light up. Sitting near this dragonshard was an old woman, and now that he could see her, Marwyn recognized her.
“Yul’adan?” Marwyn asks.
“Not anymore,” she answers sadly, “But I am pleased to see you have finally managed to find your way here. Didn’t run into too much trouble, did he Winter?”
“My name is not Winter,” his guide insists again.
“It might as well be,” she says, sighing. Marwyn got the impression that this was an old point of contention. “What did he tell you it was?” she probes, turning to Marwyn.
“The… the Sea of Siberys?” Marwyn answers awkwardly.
“It is the technical truth,” Winter argues, “Now, we aren’t here to challenge my identity. The Bow has questions.”
“The what?”
“Winter, you’re getting ahead of yourself,” the woman sighs, “Always a rush. But we have time, it appears,” she says, glancing to one of the ambiguous artifacts on the walls. “Let’s start with who I am.”

The woman shifts in her chair, getting herself comfortable for what looked like a long story. “Would you like some sweets, deer?” she asks, reaching for a bowl on the desk.
“Uh, no thanks,” Marwyn says, his stomach was still roiling from before, “You were saying?”
“Ah, yes. For now, you should call be Sage. It’s not my true name, but apparently none of us are going by are true names here, are we?” she shoots a sideways glare at the glowing dragonshard, which Marwyn could have sworn shrank a little under the gaze. “My true home is here, which may make you wonder why I approached you on Eberron. You are aware of where you are, aren’t you?” she asks, suddenly concerned.
“Yeah, Siberys,” Marwyn reassures, “Wint… uh, he told me,” Marwyn says, nodding towards the dragonshard. He wasn’t quite ready to take a position on the Winter/Sea of Siberys debate. “I mean no offense but, you seem a little different from the person I met there.”
“Yes, that was because it was merely a copy of me,” Sage pauses, thinking carefully, and then continues, “A rather unsightly ritual, the details of which I won’t bore you with, allows my persona to inhabit the body of one on Eberron. It is necessary, however.”
“Why?”
“Here, I can study the prophecies of Siberys in relative comfort and safety,” Sage explains, looking out the window, “But I damn well can’t do anything about events on Eberron. Not directly, of course,” she says, with a knowing grin. “So, every other generation or abouts one is chosen to rely my words. Of course, the world shapes all it encounters according to its own whims, so there are slight differences.”
“’Sage’,” Winter cuts in, dragging out the name slightly longer than necessary, “This isn’t what he came for.”
“I don’t actually know what I’m here for,” Marwyn adds, “I just know this is helping me to get to my friends. Somehow.”
“Oh, it is more than that, Son of the Sea,” Sage responds, tone suddenly serious, “You have been brought here to discuss matters which imperil all of Eberron.”

“Finally,” Winter says, “It’s time. Tell him who I am, and who he is.”
“Winter, as he is so loathe to be called,” Sage begins, “Is the Sea of Siberys. In a way. He is a spirit which inhabits the void, a small splinter of Siberys herself.”
“S..s..Siberys?” Marwyn stutters, floored, “The dragon Siberys? The world dragon?”
“Yes,” Sage nods, “A being as great as she could not simply die, the power must go somewhere. A small part was invested in beings such as Winter.”
“Thus, I am the Sea of Siberys,” Winter argues again, “A part of the great whole. Giving me a name different from this entirely ignores the…”
“Winter, do you want me to explain this or not?” Sage challenges. When Winter doesn’t reply, she continues, “As pieces of Siberys, the dragonshards can host both his being, and his power. Otherwise, it would be impossible for him to be speaking with us. You have felt him before this moment, yes?”
“Yeah, but on Eberron,” Marwyn replies, “How did you do that?”
“I did what I should not be capable of, because the barrier between Eberron and Siberys is being eroded,” Winter replies, “It has happened before, and it required the entire strength of Eberron to undo. Now, we are trying to prevent this from occurring a second time.”

“No offense,” Marwyn says, still in awe of who was before him, “But why am I here? I’m just a bard, there are others who could do more. Something like this, couldn’t a god intervene?”
“Because it is your destiny, as Son of the Sea,” Sage explains, “You wondered why I called you thus before. Yes?”
“Right. It makes no sense,” Marwyn agrees.
“Only because you haven’t heard the full prophecy,” Sage explains. She hushes Marwyn’s next question with a finger, and reaches for one of the books on the table. It seemed ancient, with only enchantment holding the parchment together. Cracking it open carefully, Sage begins to read.

“With the mists of death comes an end to war
Armistice among five kingdoms now four
New foes rise to pierce their armor
The Sea of Siberys brought by force to new harbor

An old foe from time immemorial
Resumes it ancient endless toil
Black robes and black hearts seek to disgrace
That which none may truly replace

Take caution in these desperate times
When close to where the darkness lies
There good intent brings great calamity
With dying of light and great insanity

But heed the coming of the Son of the Sea
Bearing the Traveler’s mark and Marksman’s pedigree
Flanked by five heroes, friend to the last
Fleeing each their own troubled past

Though before evil is vanquished, they will be tested
Broken, one fallen, the others bested
Four then endangered by hands once pure
Endless assault must be broken, for them to endure.

If trials survived and champions enriched
Winter will help guide the Son to the witch
Returned to earth heroes must, with hasty decision
Fight against the evil, and stop its eldritch vision

Any enemy desperate and without affection
Seeking its salvation in mournful reflection
The Son must takes arms and together with friends
Become Winter’s Bow, and bring threat to an end"

Sage clears her throat upon finishing, and takes a long drink from a flask. She then hands Marwyn a newer sheet if parchment, saying “I copied it this morning in anticipation of your arrival. I’m sure you would like the exact wording.”
“That didn’t sound like what I heard at all,” Marwyn protests, remembering the prophecy wall, “Some of these lines kinda sound similar, but it’s all out of order.”
“That is why you don’t trust your prophecy decryption to an amateur,” Sage replies, pride obvious in her voice, “Things will get distorted, words change, and that’s if you receive it in the proper tongue. But you got what you needed, that’s all that matters. You see now, why I name you Son of the Sea.”
“Yeah…” Marwyn says, feeling his back starting to itch again at the mere mention of the mark, “I guess I use a bow a lot too. But, what exactly is Winter’s Bow.”

Sage glances at the dragonshard oddly, and Marwyn gets the feeling he was missing something. But the moment passes, and Sage quickly continues, “An odd title, I’ve only ever seen it here, in this prophecy. I’d say it was based on my nickname of Winter here, but I only started calling him that after I’d read the prophecy. He already knew his part instinctually, but apparently not even being named ‘Winter’ in the prophecy will turn this stubborn spirit’s head.”
“It is more of a metaphor rather than…” Winter begins, but then stops and gets back on point, “Marwyn, I know what you’re thinking. ‘If I knew ahead of time what to do, then I know what’s going to happen next.’” Marwyn wasn’t actually thinking that, but he let Winter continue anyway. “That is not true. I am restricted to Siberys and even then I am not all powerful. My glimpse into the future was granted through the same prophecy that you now just read, along with my connection to the Sea. But I am cut off from Eberron save for especially weak spots. And now, you. I’m not sure exactly how or where it will happen, but I know that at some point in the near future, you will need my aid desperately. At that point, we will be joined again, and at that moment become ‘Winter’s Bow’. What you do then will decide a great many things.”
“You couldn’t have explained that on the way here?” Marwyn protests.
“No,” Winter replies, “For I needed… ‘Sage’ to deliver the prophecy beforehand. But that has now been fulfilled. Did you prepare the ritual?” Winter addresses the last question towards Sage.
“Of course I did,” Sage answers, “Did you really think I’d forget something?”

“Winte… er, I mean, could I ask another question?” Marwyn asks sheepishly, slightly embarrassed for using Sage’s nickname for his guide again.
“What is it?” Winter asks, while Sage pulls several reagents.
“What exactly can I do when you’re in my dragonshard? I think I understand the trick with the arrows, somewhat, but is there anything else I should know?”
“I suppose I could tell you now. It will save time later,” Winter agrees. “Sage, I suggest you start with the ritual. We’re running low on time.”
“Oh my, that we are,” Sage jumps, glancing again at one of her knickknacks, “You’d best jump over to him.”
“Right,” Winter says, and the dragonshard on the desk fades. Marwyn could sense the one on his back drawing in the power, as Sage began an incantation.

“That spell will teleport you to Irian, where your friends will be,” Winter explains, “But as for my powers, I am a spirit derived from one of the three dragons of creation. Granted, my powers largely involve elemental cold, which I may use to add devastating power to your arrows. But I can also attempt to influence the world, and make circumstances more… favorable to you. That power is somewhat hit or miss. Oh, and if you wish to say goodbye to Sage, I would do it now.”
“Sage! I’m sorry I didn’t think about,” Marwyn blusters. The woman eyes him with a knowing smile, and nods gently while still incanting. “Thank you for helping me. I can’t promise much but… I’ll try my best. I will!” A few moments later, Sage stops the incantation. Runes painted onto the floor below Marwyn’s feet, which he had been standing on this entire time, lit up. Magic surged through them, and suddenly it all went dark.

Irian, Present
“So I woke up here, thinking it was all a strange dream until Winter spoke to me again,” Marwyn says, finishing his story to the rest assembled. He had decided to use Sage’s shorthand. The spirit grumbled a little, but ultimately ignored it. “He had said you’d be here, so I tried you on my sending stone. An arrow later, and here we are.”
“Why can’t we touch the shard?” Vargard asks, noticing that the bard was still defensively clutching his bow.
“Winter says it’ll be a bad idea,” Marwyn responds ominously, “At least while he’s still here.”
“Why can we not hear him?” Lesani asks, still suspicious of everything.
“Uh…” Marwyn pauses, seemingly in conversation, “Winter says that he can only talk to those needed to see the prophecy through.”
“Are we not a part of this prophecy?” Lesani pushes, referencing the sheet Marwyn had handed her earlier.
Marwyn consults the dragonshard again, and then simply answers, “It’s complicated.”
“Var?” Lesani asks.
“Les, until we get our feet back on Khorvaire, I don’t think we’re in the position to question it,” Vargard decides, after thinking for a few moments, “Do you have any insights on it?”
“No,” Lesani admits, “Just that it is immensely powerful. I just think we should be careful.”

“Can we focus on getting out of here Les, and talk about Marwyn’s new ice pal later?” Jorduna butts in, anxiously, “We still have the problem of low food.”
“Oh, they should be here soon,” Marwyn says, to the general confusion of everyone else.
“Who, Marwyn?” Vargard asks quickly.
“Right, you can’t hear him,” Marwyn replies, feeling embarrassed, “Winter says, ‘Those who saved you before are coming to help us back to Eberron.’ They should be here soon. Could, could you tell me how we got Cletus back in the meantime?” he asks, still not fully believing the dwarf was fully there. He wasn’t questioning the presence of the eladrin, he figured if Vargard wasn’t worried about her, he shouldn’t be.
“Cletus, Jor, why don’t you tell ‘em,” Vargard says, figuring that between the two they should cover everything, “I need to talk with Les.”
“Sure Boss,” Jor acknowledges, and Cletus nods. The three part off, leaving Vargard, Il’yena, and Lesani alone.
“Need me to leave?” Il’yena asks awkwardly, gleeful at the prospect of arriving aid, but overwhelmed by the bard’s story.
“If you want,” Vargard replies, and the eladrin takes the opportunity to process the situation alone.

“What is it, Var?” Lesani asks, not sure where this was going.
“The moment you saw the dragonshard, you lit up. Almost like you recognized it,” Vargard says.
“Not exactly, Var,” Lesani sighs, “I merely jumped to a conclusion I should not have. Marwyn’s separation from us originally made me believe he had been taken by the shades. Logically, his presence before us could only be explained by some deal he had made with the masters within Mabar. I could never have imagined… this,” she says simply.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Vargard agrees, “I thought we were just going on a damn camping expedition at the start of this, but now… This prophecy business? End of the world nonsense? Spirits descended from damn Siberys? I’m just a mercenary Les, not a hero.”
“But what if it is true?” Lesani asks, “What if the danger is real?”
“What the hell could punch a whole between Eberron and Siberys anyways?” Vargard challenges.
“Var… Marwyn said this ‘Winter’ told him that the foe had done it before. Only one such instance comes to mind.”
“What, the things that killed off the goblin kingdom?” Vargard asks.
“Yes,” Lesani nods, “And if they are what is coming, then I must return home as soon as I can.”
“To Aundair?”
“No,” Lesani answers fiercely, a hard look in her eyes, “Home. To the Reaches. By any means possible. Even if it means leaving the Falchion.”
“Les…”
“Var, this is a matter of the utmost importance. Even if it is just a sliver of a chance, I must check in with the Gatekeepers. If you would come, though, I would be grateful.”
“Let’s get back to Eberron first,” Vargard compromises, “We’ll make our next move then.”

Half an Hour Later
Marwyn had just been regaled of the full tale of Mabar and the shades, when he suddenly perks up. “They’re almost here!” he yells to the group in general, assumedly relaying a message from Winter. “Uh, Winter says to ‘not mention him, they don’t know about his presence. Act like this dragonshard has just been augmented.’”
Seconds after his warning, Jorduna saw movement in the horizon. Her face turned white when she saw exactly what it was, and it took Vargard shaking her to get the information out of her. “Angels,” she replies blankly, “Freakin’ angels.”
Her report was accurate. 6 beings of angelic glory were bearing down on them, the largest of the flight leading them. All were resplendent in the symbol of Dol Arrah, God of Light and Honor. Each of the mortals cowed from them as they landed out of instinct, their divine radiance inspiring both fear and awe. Jorduna was the one hit hardest, and were she capable of squeezing herself into a pocket dimension, she would have done so. The presence of the angels seemed to force her into feeling shame for all she had done to wrong others. Everyone else was feeling the same way, but she the most of all. But even when not considering their divine presence, their mere physical presence was intimidating. The largest rose well above some of the trees in the forest.
Finally, after what had seemed an eternity, the lead angel spoke. “I am Solar Mag’Arrah, servant of Dol Arrah. His humble servant once known as Vaertrouse Indlefeld sacrificed his very being to assure your safe return to the mortal realm. For this act of self-sacrifice and show of faith, we will honor his dying wish. Praise be to Dol Arrah!” the angel shouts majestically, and all assembled echoed the cry, either out of faith or sudden compulsion.

“Gather before us, and prepare for the journey back,” Mag’Arrah continues, and Marwyn and the rest comply without thought. The other five angels form a circle around the mortals, and begin chanting while Mag’Arrah begins a sermon to his master. It probably wasn’t crucial to the spell which was obviously powering up, but no one dared question it.
It ends with a moral to remember the fallen and respect that which they martyred themselves for. The spell was near completion when the Solar calls for a temporary halt.

“Bard,” it calls out, shifting it’s gaze towards Marwyn, “Tell me of the stone your bow bears.”
The half-elf feels compelled to tell the truth, that “It is a dragonshard which has been empowered by arcane magics.” He experiences a brief moment of terror as the lie is told, but somehow doesn’t show any outward signs of it. Not to worry, I can handle this, he hears a voice inside of his head. Winter, Marwyn thinks.
“Treasure it, and guard it well, for I sense great power within that vessel,” Mag’Arrah orders. The angel had the slightest frown on its face, as if that wasn’t the answer it had been expecting. However, it was confident that what was spoken was the truth. “Go now, and spread news of the faith of your comrade, and the actions of Dol Arrah!”
With this, the other angels continued their chanting. As the spell neared its completion, Marwyn hears Winter speak with him again. “I must be going now. I can’t follow you to Eberron, not until the time is right. Call upon my power when the fate of the world rests in your hands, and only then. Goodbye, Son of the Sea, we will meet again.”

Then, there was a discharge of great magical power, capable of traversing the barrier between the dragon above and the dragon between. The experience was probably the nicest plane shift Marwyn had experienced thus far. It felt not unlike the sensation of feather fall, and soon enough he and the others landed gently in the middle of a forest clearing.

“Are… are we back?” Jorduna asks, looking around wildly.
“Be it true ‘r I’ll nev’r drink again,” Cletus replies, his eyes actually tearing up, “It’s tha’ King’s Forest. We’re home.”
“Gods, we did it!” Il’yena cries out, going down to her knees and grabbing handfuls of earth, “Eberron, it really is… after all this time…”
“Boss, what should we do?” Jor asks, looking to Vargard.
The warrior smiles, and replies, “I think Cletus may have an idea.”
The dwarf returns the smile and cries, “Lads! Let’s set a drinkin’ record that’ll last a century!”

Continued in Part 33. The Eldeen Reaches – A Fade to Green

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